A Homily For Christmas
By THE BISHOP OF NOTTINGHAM a The Sisters of the Christian Retreat at St. Joseph's convent, Redhill, Surrey, have celebrated the golden jubilee of their work in that centre. The sisters went to Redhill in 1887 and at first had their convent at Gore House, in Cavendish Road. Three years later they moved to thoir present bxne iia LadJmoice Road. Fr. Henry Day, M.C., S.J., brought to a highly successful conclusion recently a week's mission in the church of SS. Thomas and Stephen Harding at Market Drayton. The addresses were directed to answering the question : What do Catholics really believe? The mission was very well attended througllont. During the Christmas season, Iloly Church in her liturgy is preoccupied with the story of the infancy, the boyhood and the hidden life of Jesus. The masses for Christmas Day bring before us the circumstances attending the revelation of the corning of the Messias to the Jews in the persoils of the poor, simple Shepherds, and to the Gentiles, represeated by the wise and wealthy Kings who came seeking Him Who was born King of the Jews. "Let us go over to Bethlehem," the Shepherds said one to another, " and see this word which is come to pass . . And they came with haste; and found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger." It is this event which is specially commemorated in the Second Mass for Christmas Day. At the conclusion of the third Mass, the last Gospel, anticipated from the feast of the Epiphany, describes the corning of the Kings to the little house at Bethlehem where Joseph had taken Jesus and Mary. "Behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was . . And entering the house they found the Child with Mary, His Mother."
The feast of the Epiphany, the Gentiles' Christmas, completes the first manifestation of Jesus as Man—the Infant Jesus born of a Virgin, and as God —the King to be adored by Shepherds and Kings alike, and it is to be noticed that Nis revelation to both Shepherds and Kings was made whilst Mary and Joseph were present. It is significant also that the Church has chosen the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany as the Feast of the Holy Family, and, although her main preoccupation is with the infancy and boyhood of Our Blessed Lord, she has chosen as the Gospel for the following Sunday the episode of the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee.
Home and Family Life The liturgy of the Christmas season, therefore, brings before us in a striking manner, the teaching of Our Divine Lord and, His Church regarding home and family life and the sanctity of the married state. For in the Christian Dispensation the little group at Bethlehem and at Nazareth—Jesus, Mary and Joseph—is for all time the pattern and example for every Christian family, and the fact that our Blessed Lord's first recorded miracle was performed at a Marriage Feast is surely most striking testimony to His view and His teaching concerning the supreme importance of marriage as the foundation of family life.
Our Blessed Lord came down from Heaven to " renew the face of the earth," to bring reehnstruction to a world threatened With ruin by the sins of men.
At the time of His coming the Roman Empire was at the height of its power and controlled by far the greater part of the known world. Its civilisation, like that of the great world powers which preceded it, was based on slavery. Comparatively few enjoyed social and civic freedom: no respect was shown for the family rights and duties of the vast majority, and there was little respect for woman or regard for the holiness of marriage and home life. In His Divine Wisdom, therefore, Christ made marriage—one, holy, indissoluble— the basis of His scheme for reconstruction, and family life the foundation stone of the Christian edifice, proving to the world that this was His ideal by living in the family circle for thirty out of the thirty-three years of His life upon earth. Secondly He gave to marriage a new sanctity by raising to the dignity of a Sacrament, and thirdly He taught the whole Christian family to address its God as "Our Father."
Society's Basis The history of Christianity is the story of Christian family life. According to the teaching of Christ and His Church the family is the social unit and the basis of society—not the State and not the individual apart from the family—inasmuch as the great majority of mankind are destined by God Himself to spend most of their lives in the home circle either in obedience or in the exercise of parental authority.
The family is the cell of the Christian organism if it is destroyed, Christianity must perish.
Possibly the greatest danger threatening society today is the dishonouring of home life. Not only is the ideal of Christian family life in these days subjected to direct attack by the avowed enemies of Christ and His Church, but many who call themselves Christians, deprived as they are of the infallible guidance of the true Church, have long ceased to look upon marriage as anything more than a civil contract, binding only so long as the parties concerned may wish. Thus, outside the Catholic Church, the broken home is becoming more and more a feature of modern life.
Easy divorce, palliated if not actually encouraged 'by certain religious authorities, and the spread of unsavoury practices which are designed to defeat the primary purpose of marriage, if allowed to proceed unchecked will certainly wreck modern society as they have wrecked civilisations in the past. They are as a hidden poison which slowly must take away the life of the body in which it does its grim work, and where is the antidote to this poison to be found except in the infallible teachines of the Catholic Church, the one true Church of Christ?
The Festival of the Home Christmas is, then, the festival of the Catholic home, upon which the members of the family are drawn together as on no other occasion in the year. It is our earnest prayer that the Babe of Bethlehem will generously bless the homes of every one of Lyon, and that Maty and .loacpli saayretie
cede for you that peace and contentment may come to you all from the Divine Child, Who is also the Prince of peace.
You will be blessed indeed if yon strive once more to spend your Christ'Inas in the company of the Holy Fitfully, the exemplar for all time of what a Catholic home should be.
Let parents remember first of all that marriage is not an indulgence, but a holy duty and a grave responsibility. Let them remember that apart from the Sacred Priesthood there is no higher vocation on earth than the vocation of parenthood. Parents arc called by Almighty God to co-operate with Him in the fashioning of their children's souls for their eternal destiny. This is the parents' " stewardship" of which they must one day render an account before the judgment seat of God. What a joy will be theirs if, at that dread moment, they can say that, both by precept and example, they have spent their lives in the eternal interests of the children committed to their charge! One trembles to think, however, of the parent standing at the judgment seat who is conscious that, through his neglect and bad example, a child has drifted from the practice of religion during life with the possibility — (mainly through the fault of the parent) of eternal punishment to come. We hear much in these days of the "leakage problem " and of thg drift from religion of so many of our children after they leave school and are deprived of the safeguards which the Catholic school offers to our boys and grits. And there has been a tendency to lay the blame for this "leakage " upon the teachers in our schools and upon their methods of teaching the children their religion.
We realise, of course, that no methods can be perfect and in every way suitable to every child. But it is our firm conviction after many years of experience in the school and in the parish that the reason
why so many of our children grow careless in the practice of their religion after they
leave school is in nearly every case the carelessness and bad example of their parents. The moment of leaving school is a crisis in the life of every child, a time
when kindly guidance and the inspiration of good example are essential if the child,
like its Divine Model, is to grow "in wis dom and age and grace with God and men." And as His Blessed Mother re joiced to see her Son increase in wisdom and in holiness, so there is no greater happiness for parents than to see their children advancing in grace as they advance in age, and to realise that, by their own devotion and example, they have done something to guarantee the future happiness of those committed to their care.
The Grand Lesson Here then, is the grand lesson of Bethlehem and of Nazareth and of Cana in Galilee, arid let it he your one ambition —you fathers and mothers—to make yourselves worthy of the high vocation to which you have been called.
You will strive to make your homes as near as possible like to that of the Holy Family, in which the father sees his model in St. Joseph and the mother takes Our Blessed Lady as an example for her imitation. Here surely you have the secret of a truly happy married life. Your sons and daughters inspired by your example, will be drawn to find in Jesus their pattern and their hero, whose love of home and whose desire for holiness they will be eager to make their own.
How often we hear young, ardent, enthusiastic people proclaiming that they have some plan or other for putting the world in order, some panacea for the many ills that fall to the lot of their fellows. They are ambitious to make the world better and it is a noble ambition. But let them never forget that charity begins at home, and let them prepare for their work in life as Jesus did by the practice of obedience, by respect for parental authority and by self-sacrificing love of those whom God has placed over them and to whom, as God's instruments, they owe all they have in life. Let them seek to be better sons and daughters, better brothers and sisters—then they may set out to make the world better.
a From an. Advent Pastoral, 1937.